Being something of an ageing rock chick, I was deeply shocked and saddened to hear yesterday of the suicide of Chris Cornell, ‘grunge’ rock pioneer from the early ‘90s and one of my teenage (and beyond!) personal heroes. Here was a man with the world at his feet. Rich beyond most of our wildest dreams, with a wife and family he seemingly loved and millions of adoring fans the world over. If I’m honest, I almost couldn’t believe the news. What had gone so terribly wrong? How could this have happened? Why didn’t someone help him? The music press, social media and his fans the world over were asking many of the same questions as I.
Yet there it was, written in black and white by the Coroner’s office. Chris Cornell had hung himself. He could not see a way of continuing in this world, so he had made his exit.
I attended a suicide awareness workshop over in Northern Ireland a few years ago, at which both survivors of suicide (those who had tried to take their own lives; some repeatedly) and those who had been bereaved by suicide were present. The dialogue was raw; the stories were difficult to hear and the questions often unanswerable. The story of a man in his forties whose father had killed himself when he was a teenager stayed with me for months afterwards and his heartfelt question still does today. He wanted to know of his father “‘why was I not enough to keep you here?”. The valiant attempts to answer this question by the mental health professionals, the people who themselves had attempted suicide, the bereavement counsellors and the religious leaders were insightful, kind and well meant, but of course the only person who could have answered it to his complete satisfaction was not present. I know that the man who shared his story found comfort in talking to others who had been there and were able to begin to explain how it might feel to be in a place so desperate and hopeless that you felt your only option was death. They told him that when the world seems so dark, it feels like you are actually doing a favour for those you love to leave them behind, as to stay would be to burden, or worse still, to cause harm to those you love.
In a similar vein, I read something on social media yesterday, written by a survivor of suicide. I’ll not share it all here, but parts really resonated with me and helped me to begin to reconcile such a senseless loss.
There are many questions that will pass through your mind after someone you care deeply about decides to end their suffering. “Why did you do this to me? why were you so selfish? why did you not think I didn’t care about you enough? and why did you even think about doing this? ” are a few of them. Sometimes we even have someone that reaches out to us and we do not take it seriously until it is too late and it seems impossible to let go of the harbouring guilt such circumstances leave behind.
So why did we do it? We did it because life became too much for us to handle. We did it because our once happy minds turned into a prison of our own hell. We did it because we felt there was no other option. We did it because the pressures of our culture became too much to live up to. We did it because depression has no face and doesn’t give a damn about our mothers, fathers, children, wives, husbands, brothers, sisters and friends. Depression does not care about our bank accounts or lack thereof. Depression doesn’t give a damn about our popularity or social status. Depression simply does not care and even if it seems as if you have everything going for you or nothing at all…depression makes us believe the worst. It isn’t that WE didn’t give a damn. In fact, we cared so much that we no longer wanted to burden our loved ones any longer because that’s how depression makes you feel. It makes you feel as if you are a plague to your own lives and everyone that surrounds you. We did not do it because we don’t love you. We didn’t do it to be selfish. We only wanted the pain to be put to rest. We know you cared. We know you love us, and no matter what you would have said or done…we would have had the same outcome either way. So please, don’t blame yourselves.
While I know many think suicide is a selfish act, and that is fine because you are human and I once thought it was selfish as well; it took me many years after losing a close friend to understand that if she was in that much pain, it was selfish of me to want to keep her here in it only to hug her once more. Even if you do not agree with my last statement, I encourage you to think about it for a moment. It took years for it to make sense. People told me “everything happens for a reason” and in my mind, that made losing her worse because I’ll never know for certain that “reason”.
But what if it doesn’t? What if some things happen for no reason at all? Maybe they do, and maybe they don’t. Either way, do not torture yourselves with having to know that reason because you may never know or understand it. I can only hope that what I just wrote gives you some kind of clarity or understanding so that you can forgive your loved one or yourselves. The pain will never go away but with time, the weight of emotions gets easier to balance.
So if you see someone cry out for help, take them seriously no matter how often they cry out. Be kind to one another and most importantly, forgive one another…even yourselves.
Suicide is an issue that affects everyone. It is the single biggest killer of young people, particularly young men under the age of 45 in the UK. Our silence is killing us. Suicide does not discriminate between rock stars, sales assistants, teachers, funeral directors, beauticians or people from any other walk of life.
Talking about our fears and feelings is difficult – even to those we know love and care about us. This can prevent people from recognising distress and being able to help in a crisis. Words can be totally inadequate to convey the amount of pain a person may be suffering. It is easy to understand that someone is hurting if they have been injured or are physically ill. Emotional pain cannot be seen, but it can be just as unbearable.
Asking about suicide is important but difficult – you may be asking a friend, colleague or family member, which can be distressing and you might find the answer painful and hard to comprehend. But it is vital that you ask: ‘have you thought of suicide?’ This can give permission for that person to share their thoughts about suicide. It tells them that it is OK to talk. It gives you the opportunity to reassure them that there are services and people to support them and that you are there to help.
The more we talk about suicide openly, the sooner we reduce the fear and stigma that surrounds it. Let’s start today.
If you, or someone you know is struggling with their mental health, the following organisations may be able to help:
Samaritans www.samaritans.org operates a 24-hour service available every day of the year. Phone: 116 123. If you prefer to write down how you’re feeling, or if you’re worried about being overheard on the phone, you can email Samaritans at email@example.com.
The Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) www.thecalmzone.net is dedicated to preventing male suicide. As well as their website, CALM also has a helpline 0800 58 58 58
SAIFSupport is committed to safeguarding and improving the mental health of people working in independent funeral businesses. SAIFSupport is a free helpline and counselling service available to all members of SAIF (The Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors). Call us on 0800 077 8578 or email firstname.lastname@example.org